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Wednesday, Aug 15, 2018
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Tampa Bay area doesn’t make cut as Amazon second headquarter finalist

To no one’s surprise, Amazon on Thursday released its list of location finalists for its second headquarters, and neither Tampa nor St. Petersburg was on it.

"We knew it was going to be a long shot and a difficult road," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.

Miami did make the short list of cities left vying for a new campus for as many as 50,000 Amazon employees with salaries averaging more than $100,000 a year.

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties had joined efforts to convince Amazon the Tampa Bay area should be the home of the company’s North American headquarters.

The locations pitched included the 85-acre site of Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and the 40 acres that Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment capital fund have assembled at the southern end of downtown Tampa.

Read more: Pinellas, Hillsborough join forces to enter Amazon bidding war

"Obviously, we would have liked to be one of the finalists," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said. "It would be hard not to be disappointed that we weren’t."

That said, local officials said St. Petersburg, Tampa, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, plus their economic development organizations, had never cooperated before like they did on the Amazon bid, and experience will create a template for the future.

"Historically you’ve seen kind of a battle of egos between the two communities, which has really impacted and interfered with progress," Kriseman said. For the Amazon bid, "we put our egos aside for the betterment of the region."

Amazon reviewed 238 proposals from across the country, Canada, and Mexico and chose 20 metro areas:

- Atlanta

- Austin, Texas

- Boston

- Chicago

- Columbus, Ohio

- Dallas

- Denver

- Indianapolis, Ind.

- Los Angeles

- Miami

- Montgomery County, Md.

- Nashville, Tenn.

- Newark, N.J.

- New York City

- Northern Virginia

- Philadelphia

- Pittsburgh, Pa.

- Raleigh, N.C.

- Toronto, Ontario

- Washington D.C.

Amazon said it will dive deeper into each area’s proposal, request additional information and make a decision in 2018.

"Through this process we learned about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation," Holly Sullivan of Amazon Public Policy said in a release.

As part of their joint Pinellas-Hillsborough bid, local elected officials, business executives, top educators and civic leaders touted the bay area’s record of creating new jobs, its quality of life, its business environment, the ability of local leaders to work together, and the openness and diversity of its communities.

Local officials had acknowledged the bay area’s chances were slim, in no small part because it lacks a regional transportation system.

"The most glaring hole that we’ve got to fill," Kriseman said. "This region is really challenged when it comes to transit. That is a deficit that we have to address if we are going to be able to put really competitive proposals on the table when opportunities like this come up in the future."

TRANSIT, INFRASTRUCTURE AND MORE: Four issues that are now Tampa Bay area priorities

Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. CEO Craig Richard said he was not surprised at the list. Based on Amazon’s criteria, he thought it was clear that most major markets were going to be contenders.

"I was pleased to see that Florida is on the list with Miami, which keeps Florida in the hunt," he said.

Beyond that, Richard said the process of putting together the proposal gave the bay area an opportunity to showcase its assets and gain experience working together as a region.

"I think we have a recipe for success moving forward," he said, and it’s not like the region hasn’t already played at a high level. Drugmaker Amgen selected Tampa for an expansion with 450 employees after starting with a field of more than 380 communities.

A BIG GET: Biotech giant Amgen to open Tampa center, creating up to 450 jobs

"I’m happy we did it," Buckhorn said. "I think we can build off of that."

Ten years ago, "we would have never been in this conversation," he said. "I’m never satisfied until I win, but I also recognize that it’s a process, and you don’t get to this point overnight. We’re not where we need to be, but we’re getting there."

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